My original plan was to write these observations as Monday night’s game was going on, but as with so many other things on my recent trip to Chicago, a number of issues beyond my control intervened.
One of those issues was pressbox internet access. When you consider that the average worth of an NFL team is $1.02 billion (according to study by Forbes), I don’t think it’s too much to ask for all franchises to have a good (and free) wi-fi network in their respective pressboxes to accomodate the needs of all the people who cover the NFL. Media exposure and visibility help keep the league’s money-making machine chugging along.
Still, much like the “labor” negotations that’ll be going on between now and the probable lockout of 2011, there has to be give-and-take. (However, press box food is non-negotiable. Downgrade if you must, but provide plenty of it! Solidarity, my media bretheren!) So, how about doing away with paper stats (has to be a cost savings there) and providing up-to-the minute stats via the internet–stats we in the media could access easily if there’s wi-fi available?
But, I digress. This blog isn’t about my challenges in covering the Green Bay Packers, it’s about the challenges the team faced but could not overcome Monday night in Chicago.
AND ON THE TOPIC OF CHALLENGES
Mike McCarthy wasted one by challenging the officials’ call that Tim Jennings of the Bears was inbounds when he recovered James Jones’ 4th quarter fumble. That lost timeout would sure have come in handy when Green Bay needed to stop the clock on Chicago’s final drive. There has to be better communiation between the box and the sideline in those situations.
RIGHT SIDELINE=BALL IN RIGHT HAND
That McCarthy mistake could have been avoided, however, had Jones not coughed up the football–which probably would not have happened had he been carrying the ball in his right hand. Instead, the ball was in his left, which made it a fairly easy target for onrushing Bears’ linebacker Brian Urlacher.
SPEAKING OF THE SIDELINES
How about aiming a punt toward one of them when Devin Hester is the return man? Or, what about punting it high to force a fair catch? To me, the turning point of this game came with 2 minutes left in the second quarter, when Hester returned Tim Masthay’s 35-yard line drive punt 28 yards to the Packers’ 44. That seemed to jump-start the Bears offense (which had gone three-and-out on its previous posession), and Chicago cashed in on the field position, as Jay Cutler engineered a 4-play TD drive. Instead of Green Bay taking a 10-0 lead into the locker room, the Bears had made it a game, and it stayed close the rest of the way.
FOOL ME ONCE….
Masthay’s next punt was no line drive, but a beautiful bomb of 57 yards. Unfortunately, it was a punt straight down the middle of the field, well beyond the Packers punt coverage teams, which gave Hester plenty of time to head back the other way–all the way, 62 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Looking at the video, it sure looks like the Bears got away with a hold or two on the return, but regardless…the strategy of punting to Hester completely backfired on the Pack–twice.
NOT MASTHAY’S PROBLEM, BUT SHAWN SLOCUM’S
If the punter has to be the last line of defense, that’s not saying much for the first few lines of defense. Someone (anyone) needed to shed a block and make a play on either of the Hester returns, because Masthay’s 50% tackling average will be about as good as it gets this season. Likewise, Masthay was the holder when Mason Crosby had a field goal blocked…but somehow, Green Bay couldn’t account for Julius Peppers, who wedged himself in between snapper Brad Goode and Josh Sitton to block Crosby’s kick.
SPEAKING OF BLOCKING
Last year, the Packers were able to make some tweaks along the offensive line that helped salvage their season. Personally, I’m not ready to give up on either Chad Clifton or Mark Tauscher right now, but if they can’t get the job done, they’ll need to be replaced in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Struggling to block a stud rusher like Peppers (especially when the Bears know the Packers are going to be passing the ball) is not too surprising–nor are the subsequent holding penalties. The real head-scratchers were the other penalties each committed: Clifton’s false start and illegal formation penalties, along with Tauscher’s back-to-back false start penalties. You don’t expect that out of veteran linemen.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT…OR SOMEWHERE…
Neither team was able to run the ball particularly well Monday night. In fact, Cutler led the Bears with 37 yards on three carries, while Rodgers rushed twice for 20 yards and a touchdown. Still, the fact remains that with Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, Chicago has two backs that are capable of breaking off long gains periodically. You can’t say the same thing about Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn–nice guys, good guys, hard workers, but they’re both situational players, and not long-term solutions to the Packers ground struggles.
As I browsed the internet to read articles about the game, I came across this nugget in an otherwise well-written piece in the Green Bay Press Gazette:
It’s hard to knock Rodgers, but you’ve got to win the big ones and this was a big one. All the stats and all the wins over teams he should beat are nice, but you’ve got to win big games.
What else should the guy have done? Prevent McCarthy from throwing his challenge flag? Block better to help the ground game? Sign a free agent running back? Design better punt coverage schemes? Run down Devin Hester from behind? Not throw the ball to James Jones to prevent a fumble? Fix the internet issues in the press box?
If the Packers had squandered their lead in the opener at Philadelphia, I would have been fine with any and all criticism of Rodgers then…but blaming him for the loss to the Bears makes no sense whatsoever.
CLEAN IT UP
Packers players and coaches claim they’re not an undisciplined team, but 18 penalties is an absurdly high number. Still, as mind-boggling as it sounds, Green Bay could have won with 16 penalties…take away Frank Zombo’s late hit on Cutler, and the Packers have the ball on the Bears 37 with a 3-point lead and about 6 1/2 minutes left.
The obvious answer: the Packers will host the Lions, while the Bears will visit the Giants. For all we know, Green Bay and Chicago could be tied for the division lead again by this time next week. Or, the Bears could start putting a little more distance between themselves, the Pack, and the pack that is the Vikings and Lions. Normally, I’m a bottom-line guy (instead of a style points guy) in the week-to-week world that is the NFL, but after the mistake-prone performance at Soldier Field, I’ll be expecting Green Bay to play better in all three phases vs. the Lions.
If not, there may be a little extra room on that Packers’ Super Bowl bandwagon.
Posted under Hometown Sports
This post was written by bbradovich on September 29, 2010